They were both quite successful and well respected. One thing led to another, however, and they soon found themselves embroiled in some serious beef. One day, the writer by the name of John Dryden decided to up the ante. Dryden completely skewers Shadwell, exposing him for what he was: a bad writer with bad taste, who would do anything for the cheap laugh.
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After many years as ruler, however, it comes time for him to step down. Ultimately, he chooses his son Thomas Shadwell, a poet of unparalleled dreadfulness, as his successor. Shadwell is the worst writer in all the land, and thus, the perfect man for the job. Upon arriving in the city of August a. London , Shadwell is crowned king of the realm of nonsense. Dryden shows his cards from the get-go, informing us that this poem is intended as satire.
The subject of the satire, it would seem, is the unlucky fellow identified here as the "True-blue Protestant Poet T. Lines All human things are subject to decay, And, when Fate summons, monarchs must obey: Dryden begins with a lofty commentary on mortality, God, and kings, his introduction to what we can only assume will be a grandiose epic of Homeric proportions.
As we will soon discover, the entirety of the poem is written in rhymed heroic couplets , typical of the epic style. Check out " Form and Meter " for more on how this poem is put together. From this initial couplet, Dryden creates the atmosphere of an epic, a grandiose story of gods and kings, in line with the tradition of poetic big names like Homer or Milton.
This could be a reference to Richard Flecknoe , an earlier English poet likely of Irish origin. This distinction does not reflect well on his literary talents. He has been blessed with a "large increase" a.
So how will he make this decision? He will choose the heir who is most like the king himself, in wit and poetic ability or, as Dryden implies, lack thereof. Lines Shadwell alone my perfect image bears, Mature in dullness from his tender years. It also implies the name of the writer: Shadwell. The full name "Shadwell" fits the bill. In his supreme dullness and stupidity, it is Shadwell alone who appears fit to inherit the throne from Flecknoe.
They had divergent political views, as Dryden supported the Stuart monarchy while Shadwell was a member of the opposing party, called the Whigs. Dryden responded within the year with "Mac Flecknoe.
No beam of intelligence or wit can reach him in his "genuine night. Dryden drops insult after insult, berating the intelligence and substance of his victim—but in the lofty language and style that might be used to exalt the many virtues of a Homeric hero. We guess he probably had more intellect than a tree, but either way—ouch. Neither of these two writers garnered much acclaim during their day, presumably preparing the way for more lackluster writers to come.
A "tautology" is basically just a redundancy, the unnecessary repetition of information. Dryden accuses these poets, most importantly Shadwell himself, of bad, illogical writing. Lines And coarsely clad in Norwich drugget came To teach the nations in thy greater name. A "drugget" is a rough woolen fabric. Dryden actually spent some time in Portugal, having written a number of pieces dedicated to the Portuguese monarch.
The river Thames runs through London. In this section, the speaker addresses Shadwell directly in the second person, remembering as the writer appeared in the capital aboard a ship on the river "thou on silver Thames". Methinks I see the new Arion sail, The lute still trembling underneath thy nail.
The speaker describes as Shadwell rides into London victorious, as if he were the commander of a large army. Arion was an ancient Greek poet and musician. As the story goes, he was riding home on a ship when the sailors decided to kill him rob him for his wealth.
He was permitted to sing one last song accompanied by his lyre and, after doing so, he jumped into the water—where he was saved by a dolphin who carried him to shore.
Though, open sewers were commonplace everywhere. Lines About thy boat the little fishes throng, As at the morning toast, that floats along. Dryden puns on the word "feet" here, referring to the feet of the dancer St. Here stopt the good old sire; and wept for joy In silent raptures of the hopeful boy. All arguments, but most his plays, persuade, That for anointed dullness he was made. Who are these folks, you wonder?
He was a knight, and the grand master of Rhodes. The envious Singleton, the speaker implies, will be grand master of London no more, now that Shadwell is in town.
Everyone else is just playing for second place. From its old ruins brothel-houses rise, Scenes of lewd loves, and of polluted joys. London was in a state of fear during this time due to the so-called "Popish Plot," an alleged conspiracy suggesting that the Jesuits planned to assassinate King Charles II. The plot turned out to be completely inaccurate The Barbican "it hight" means "it was called" was a defensive fortification located in London.
Its former glory is gone, however, as it has become the site of brothels, for the purpose of "polluted joys. Here Dryden paints for us a picture of a "nursery," where the brothel children learn to be actors. His tone is quite ironic here, seeing as this brothel is an unlikely birthplace for "queens" and "future heroes.
John Fletcher was an early seventeenth-century playwright known for his tragedies; in the ancient Greek tradition, "buskins" were the kind of boot worn by actors when performing tragedies. In short, the speaker explains here that there is no room for tragedies or comedies in this place; only fools and punsters who wage "harmless war[s] with words" may find an audience here.
A prophecy from Dekker, in this sense, is hardly a shining endorsement—though this anticipated prince without wit or sense seems to perfectly fit the bill.
Dryden is right back at belittling Shadwell. Lines To whom true dullness should some Psyches owe, But worlds of Misers from his pen should flow; Humorists and hypocrites it should produce, Whole Raymond families, and tribes of Bruce.
Dryden is taking a shot at every Shadwell work he can. In times of scarcity, paper from books would often be repurposed for other needs. Lining pie tins was one such usage, and toilet paper was another "reliques of the bum" —classy.
Lots more identification is called for here. Got your notes ready? The speaker again makes reference to mediocre poets John Heywood, James Shirley, and now includes John Ogleby—a Scottish translator and cartographer who also happened to write bad poetry. These poets may be bad, the speaker suggests, but Shadwell is even worse.
Henry Herringman was a publisher and bookseller, who published Dryden, as well as Shadwell. He was one of the founders of the Roman people. Much like Shadwell, he inherited the throne from his father. Hannibal was a general from Carthage who warred against Rome. As commanded by his father, he swore to combat Rome as long as he lived. Thus, Shadwell swears to wage war on wit and sense, all in the name of "true dullness" and the defense of the realm.
The word "sinister" in modern English comes from that Latin word for left-handed. Sorry, southpaws. At his coronation, the king of England would be presented with a scepter and orb as a symbol of power. In this case, instead of an orb, or ball, the new king is presented with booze, implying the dimwitted dullness of the new monarch.
Shadwell also had an addiction to opium, which is made from poppies. According to Roman myth, Romulus, the legendary founder of Rome, was visited by twelve vultures who told him where to establish the city.
The sire then shook the honours of his head, And from his brows damps of oblivion shed Full on the filial dullness: long he stood, Repelling from his breast the raging god; At length burst out in this prophetic mood: A throng of admirers cheers Shadwell on, as he takes his seat on the throne. Of course, he is so daft, the speaker claims, that he literally sweats obliviousness.
By "filial," the speaker means that Shadwell inherits his dullness from the old king Flecknoe. And thus Flecknoe prepares to address the crowd. Cue the sad trombone. Success let other teach, learn thou from me Pangs without birth, and fruitless industry. Let Virtuosos in five years be writ; Yet not one thought accuse thy toil of wit.
Flecknoe continues. In a nutshell, he says: "Let my son increase in blind ignorance as his rule proceeds, producing more and more terrible works. Sir George Etherege was a comedic playwright and contemporary of Shadwell and Dryden.
Loveit, Cully, Cockwood, and Fopling are all characters from his plays. Dryden actually seems complementary of "gentle George," making note of his wit. Nay let thy men of wit too be the same, All full of thee, and differing but in name; But let no alien Sedley interpose To lard with wit thy hungry Epsom prose. Sir Formal, though unsought, attends thy quill, And does thy Northern Dedications fill.
You need not try to be dull, Flecknoe reminds his heir. You simply have to be your own dull self and the rest will take care of itself. Shadwell would often dedicate his plays and poems to the Duke and Duchess of Newcastle, located in the northern part of the country.
Shadwell was a great admirer of comedic playwright Ben Jonson, and attempted to write in his style. Jonson, however, was a much superior writer. Where did his wit on learning fix a brand, And rail at arts he did not understand? Other things to know about for this section include the fact that "rail" means to reproach, or speak out against. Here we get more references to comedic playwrights John Fletcher and George Etherege, whom it seems Dryden viewed more favorably than Shadwell.
Mac Flecknoe Summary
Mac Flecknoe is both a personal and literary satire. Dryden presents Shadwell as a dull poetaster, a corpulent man and a plagiarist. He decided to avenge himself on Shadwell and Dryden fully revenged himself by the publication of Mac Flecknoe in Mac Flecknoe is the first substantial mock-heroic poem and Thomas Shadwell is the hero of this epic.
Mac Flecknoe Summary and Analysis of Mac Flecknoe
The first line of the poem creates the illusion of its being an epic poem about a historical hero. The next lines talk about Mac Flecknoe , a monarch who instead of ruling an empire, rules over the realm of Nonsense. The king is old and thus must choose a successor to his throne. Dryden wonders whether the king will chose a poet who has talent and wit or if he will choose someone like him, a man with no literary talent. Flecknoe decides upon his son Shadwell, a man with no talent and who is tedious, stupid, and always at war with wit.